Leadership Series Podcast

Characteristics of Enduring Leadership with Angie Volk, 3M

Gary Tubridy, principal at the Alexander Group, spoke with Angie Volk, the U.S. vice president of sales for medical solutions at 3M Healthcare, to discuss the practices of leaders and companies that display characteristics of enduring leadership.

Angie shares what it means for 3M to be an enduring leadership company through its mission, culture, employees and customers. She also explains how she continues to be an enduring leader within her team.

Gary Tubridy: Hello, Gary Tubridy, principal at the Alexander Group. We’re here to talk about the topic of enduring leadership companies that deliver results that are measured in decades, not just years.

There are some companies out there that do this very well and executives that help deliver on this. I’m here with Angie Volk, the U.S. vice president of sales for medical solutions at 3M Healthcare. Angie, welcome. Thank you for joining us.

Angie Volk: Thank you for having me. My pleasure.

Gary Tubridy: We’ll talk about missions. We’ll talk about the culture that supports that mission, and then of course, the talent that goes beneath that. And some of the things that you all do at 3M and based on your broader experience life experience that make a difference in these three areas.

Let me start with mission and the 3M healthcare mission is a great one. And let me back up and just mention that. In leadership companies that have enduring leadership, they have missions that matter. They’re not about the product. They’re not about results. They speak to something that might almost be noble.

Something that causes people to say, “Hey that’s the kind of place that I want to work [at]. Hey, that’s the kind of place that I want to have as a partner.” Great companies think a lot about those missions and yours is pithy and captivating: “Enabling health and wellness for individuals everywhere.”

So that’s a lot. Yeah. You can’t thrive as a company. You cannot grow if you don’t do those kinds of things. And yet, you don’t mention growth in there at all, do you? It’s all about the customer. It’s all about doing the right things. Let me ask you a little bit about that mission and your thoughts on it and what it means to you and your colleagues at 3M.

Angie Volk: Sure. I think before I speak to our mission specifically, I think I’ll back up a little bit to about the first statement that you made that a lot of enduring companies. Does mission matter? What I’ve learned my many years now is that mission matters. I think leadership matters as well, that mission outlives leaders that come and go.

As does culture. And we’ll get to that later. But yes, that mission statement endures and typically does not change and is irrevocable regardless of who it is that is attempting to lead the company to live that mission on a daily basis. So, I do think it matters, but it matters more that the team, the talent, which I know we’ll get to in a bit, truly lives and truly demonstrates that mission. It can’t be just words on a plaque somewhere in the headquarters. You need to make sure that your team is truly living that mission. And so, I think ours specifically, the words that I think have really rung true for me and my experience at 3M is the first word, “enabling”, and the last word, “everywhere”.

So, I think our mission is a little bit unique in that we sell and we provide products to help patients no matter where they are at in their care continuum. Whether it’s prevention, whether it’s in the clinic, in the hospital, after they leave the hospital, after they go home and all throughout their care journey.

And I think that’s a little bit unique. And that’s becoming, as with Covid, that has really accelerated and exacerbated the need for care and therapies outside of just the hospital. In the clinic, patients are requiring that now. And so, I think we’re uniquely capable of providing that for our patients and really “enabling” – that is always a powerful word for me, whether you’re talking about team and leadership. But in this case, we’re talking about patients and just making sure that as many patients as possible have access to our therapies and to our products so that they can achieve that health and wellness that’s smack in the middle of our mission statement.

Gary Tubridy: And that access is a big word because again, it goes beyond producing great products that physicians can use. It means you’re a partner in helping deliver these great products through the physicians to the patients who will actually get the benefit of them.

Angie Volk: That is absolutely true, and that’s where the next part comes in the talent part. Yeah, that is a big part of that access is making sure that we have a team in place that is passionate about that mission and enables those therapies and those products to be delivered in the right way, in the appropriate situations to patients who need it.

Gary Tubridy: Yeah. These are interesting economic times. They say economists have predicted ten of the last five recessions, so we don’t really know whether we’re going up, down, or just threading water here, but they are challenging economic times. And my question is can a mission statement help inform operating decisions or even investments when the economy isn’t so firm and we’re looking very hard at every dollar spent and every investment made?

Angie Volk: [A] mission statement should endure leaders, it should endure recessions, or we call it the R-word. It should endure pandemics. It really should endure space and time if it is a good mission statement. And so, I would say with [regards to situations] specific to challenging economic times, I think we use it as a bellwether and as something to [look towards] as we’re struggling to make oftentimes very challenging decisions, right?

In terms of headcount, investments, expanding indications or clinical trials, or whatever the case may be. I think that mission statement helps to always direct us back to, is this decision going to impact our ability to enable as many patients as possible access to our therapies everywhere.

Gary Tubridy: So it does help prioritize if we’re cutting in a space where our mission will be affected. Somebody out there who cares about that mission is going to raise their hand and say, “Wait a second. We’ve got think twice about that.”

To go back to your very astute statement, that mission outlives the executive. One executive in this series said, “A leader is a steward of the company and the job of the steward is to leave the company in better shape than when they came in. And the company will outlive your tenure here. The question is, did you make it a better place?” Not a bad way to think.

Angie Volk: I absolutely agree with that and I think “steward” is a very sage term. I think “legacy.” What is a legacy that leader leaves, which oftentimes outlast their tenure and hopefully impacts the next leader that comes behind them and succeeds them?

Gary Tubridy: Let me ask you about that. I love the term “legacy” and it too implies a spectrum of that extends beyond my personal time at a company.

When you think about legacy, are there things that you want to leave behind as you think about a legacy in your executive time at a company? Are there things you want people to understand? “This is the legacy that I, Angie, have left behind.”

Angie Volk: At this point in my career, I am absolutely thinking of legacy.

There’s more road behind than there is. I’ll say it that way. And so, legacy is very important to me. I think I’ve had the opportunity to go through several development programs, one of which was very poignant and really made me self-reflect on why I am pursuing the career path that I am.

What is my “why”? And I think what I learned was that my “why” was leaving a legacy of leadership specific to talent development. And so, some of the things that I’ve tried to impart on the teams that I’ve led are to lead and I need to frame this the correct way. Lead like you don’t care if you get fired.

Not meaning to be reckless, not meaning to make poor decisions or rash judgments or anything like that but lead in a way that your team knows that you care more about them. More about making the right decisions than you do about your own progression upwards because people can smell self-preservation many miles away. And then the other thing I think about in terms of legacy is – I’m maybe a little bit biased here. I’m really focused on development of women in leadership. It’s really important to me. I had the opportunity to attend your last female revenue leaders forum, which was fantastic.

And so, I want my legacy to be that rather than the image of “There’s so few females in leadership positions that we fight for the minimal spots that are available to us.” Rather than that, I would like my legacy to be, “I am the one reaching back, reaching down the ladder and helping others up behind me to teach them what I’ve learned through all of the mistakes that I’ve made, to give them the support and the confidence that if I can do this, they most certainly can.” And to just encourage them in any way that I can to become future leaders. That is a legacy that I hope to leave.

Gary Tubridy: Excellent. Let’s talk a little bit about a related topic: the culture of 3M. When you look at healthcare and device companies like 3M and technology companies, there’s a little bit of convergence going on there. If you go out there: healthcare, health information systems and medical solutions, and medical device components. And so, there’s a lot of different attributes that if you looked at the 3M healthcare product line and service line, you say, “Huh, that definitely has some technological kinda influence there.”

And so, I’m wondering because there’s healthcare and technology. How do you view the company on the spectrum of healthcare and technology? It’s a healthcare company that uses technology or you’re becoming more technologically oriented. How would you describe that?

Angie Volk: That’s a very interesting question. I think what I would suggest is that our division, the medical solutions division started as an offshoot of the technologies that were developed by the industrial divisions of 3M, specifically adhesives.

Gary Tubridy: But isn’t 3M such – so good at that? “Hey, this is good. Let’s build this.”

Angie Volk: Amazing. Yes. I was amazed at the amount of clinical data and technology data behind our products and enthralled. Yeah. And so I think, our situation was more that we had this incredible technology, all of this history of adhesives used in other applications that eventually crept over into the therapies needed in the medical space.

And I would also say the benefit of just the methodology of 3M in terms of, it’s a very engineering mindset, very manufacturing mindset. And so the methodology and the process orientation of developing new products, testing – I never questioned the quality of our products, ever.

Absolutely. I know they were developed with very thorough processes to the utmost requirements. And so, I think that has lent itself to our innovation mindset. And then when you add on, as you mentioned HIS, our health information systems division, that is something that obviously is coming to the forefront of our market.

When you talk about AI and some people cringe, and some people thirst. I think-

Gary Tubridy: Some do both.

Angie Volk: Some do both. Yes, correct. Depending on the situation, I think we’re strategically poised to combine the two.

Gary Tubridy: Yeah. I love the innovation mindset term you use because great companies are and the executives that run them, they never stand pat.

They’re always looking for a way to improve, something to help their customers do their jobs better. The innovation mindset is really part and parcel like that.

Tell me, when you think about culture what words would you use to describe the culture at 3M?

Angie Volk: I have found in my relatively short tenure at 3M – and I always knew this was the case as an outsider – because the people that I knew that worked there, their family worked there. Their parents worked there. They have worked there their entire careers and so, seeing that now from the inside, none of that was overstated.

People believe very strongly in that mission that we talked about previously. They believe very strongly in the culture of 3M, which I would describe if [you] asked me for a few words, I would say “innovation, purpose, mission, diversity.” I would say the average tenure of my team, just in my division, is at least 20 years.

I have a gentleman on my leadership team who literally has a 3M tattoo on his shoulder. That is how dedicated and committed to our company that many people at 3M are.

Gary Tubridy: That’s pretty neat. Has that culture evolved at all in these last three years, where we’re in the pandemic? We’re learning how to help one another in different ways and now emerged with some learning and experience in that? Has it evolved? If so, how?

Angie Volk: I think just like every other company that hopefully endured the pandemic – I think there were some shifts in how we work. We are primarily a remote company at this point, but I think even more so than that. Our division specifically went through a very large acquisition right before the pandemic.

So combining two cultures into one, that whole integration effort obviously is going to have an impact on your culture and which pieces of the culture of both companies do you try to preserve and combine? And now we’re about to embark on a spinoff where we, along with the health information systems and our oral care business, are all spinning off into a new dedicated med device company.

And so, we have the very unique opportunity to create a new culture. Now, I don’t think we’ll start from scratch. Again, because of the tenure that I mentioned of our employees and because I think 3M as a whole company has such an incredible culture. I don’t think we want to completely toss that aside.

What are the pieces that we want to bring along? And then what are the things that we want to do a little bit different now that we are [00:15:00] just medical device and not a medical device division that’s part of a large industrial conglomerate?

Gary Tubridy: Are there a couple of words you might add to that cultural vocabulary as you spin off into a new focused company?

Angie Volk: Agile. I think I already used “Innovative”, but I’m going to keep that.

Gary Tubridy: Tell me about this. You mentioned before and this stuck with me the notion of “Act like you’re not afraid of being fired. Do the right thing and know that your team is behind you and always be in support of your team.” And the question was where do y’all stand on that team versus individual continuum? Because people will argue this both ways. “Team is great, but you have to have accountability.

Without accountability, how can we move the ball forward?” So tell me about the team work and how it works in your world and why it’s so important.

Angie Volk: So I think in our case, in the medical division, team is absolutely critical because we have so many different people with different skill sets calling on physicians and healthcare providers to ultimately impact patients.

So there is a patient at the end of our selling cycle, and we need people on our team who are yes, very individually skilled and capable and held accountable on an individual basis, but are willing and able to work as a team. To ultimately bring the best benefit to the patient. And what I would say about my comment about “Lead like you don’t care if you get fired,” that does not mean “And always be supportive of your team.”

That does not mean I always say yes and the people, the folks that have worked for me will confirm that. But it does mean “Give everybody the opportunity to weigh in, to discuss, to make a decision and say why that decision was made and then debrief at some point later.” And maybe it was the wrong decision.

And boy, I certainly would say I’ve made some wrong decisions, no question. But I think, to the point of “team”, I think being a leader means you have to be vulnerable enough to admit sometimes those mistakes, to be willing to take some risks and to be willing to be held accountable yourself.

Gary Tubridy: If you get behind your people you’re almost defining team, aren’t you? “We’re in this together. You and me. Us. And if we treat that as ourselves as a team, then, there we are. The team is taking care of one another, not pointing fingers.” This question I have for you is about experimentation and the extent to which that is encouraged. And an executive in a call earlier this year said, “I love to get people to experiment. My rule of thumb is when I give ’em the go ahead, if it all works out, I tell ’em they’re going to get all the credit. And if it doesn’t work out, then I tell ’em I’m going to take all the blame.”

And I thought, “Wow, that’s a way to get people to go out on a limb for you if you’ve got a track record of doing that.” Tell me a little bit about the culture of experimentation at 3M Healthcare.

Angie Volk: What’s interesting, where I thought you were going to go with that, Gary, is if everything works out correctly, we probably didn’t take enough risk.

We didn’t push the envelope enough. Maybe [we] were too conservative and too safe.

Gary Tubridy: There probably is a ratio there between success and failure as long as we learn. There’s got to be a ratio.

Angie Volk: But I think that depends on the risk tolerance of the leadership team and the culture and the willingness to encourage and accept failure as a part of experimentation and success. And I think that a lot of people talk about that and a lot of people talk about “It’s okay to fail” and taking calculated risk. I think a lot of people talk about that, but I think there’s still a lot of room for improvement in terms of acting that out.

Gary Tubridy: Any examples that you could share with us in terms of a failure that “Sounded good, didn’t work, but we learned something”?

Angie Volk: I would say, and I don’t think this is unique to 3M. I don’t think this is even unique to [the] medical device [division]. I think strategic organizational structure is forever changing and it should change. Our markets change, our world [changes], pandemics: you name it. It should continuously change. The moment you’re not, you are probably obsolete and you’re probably missing something.

So I think there have likely been organizational changes that we’ve made that maybe were too conservative or too risky, and we ended up going back. And I think, like I mentioned to vulnerability, I think very strong leaders are willing to say, “You know what? We tried something. It didn’t work. We’re going back.”

Gary Tubridy: Yeah. I think that makes more sense than slogging forward with a mistaken option and being proved wrong every day.

Tell me, with regard to talent, what attracts people to 3M Healthcare and why do they stay? You mentioned that you have a gentleman with a tattoo. That’s a great story. Why do they come and why do they stick?

Angie Volk: I think a lot of people come to the company, including me, because of the brand of 3M, because of the history of innovation, because of the breadth of products, which means [a] breadth of career development opportunities.

Even just within my own organization, within my sales structure, I have eight different types of roles that people can stretch themselves, much less move amongst the different divisions within healthcare. Much less move within the different divisions of the entire company. I think the whole career development opportunities is a big part of why they come.

And 3M does a great job of not just allowing that, but enabling that and encouraging that. I think that’s both why people come and why people stay.

Gary Tubridy: But you, as a leader, you also have to be in that because you’ve got to – you’ve got to help move your people. People who are really good, you can’t keep ’em. So we might as well keep them right here.

Angie Volk: I’ve been allowed incredible opportunities to take those risks and probably take on roles that I had no business doing.

So, I would be a pretty large hypocrite if I were to hold others back. So, I always encourage that and want people to take those leaps. I think people are better in roles if they have perspective from other roles around them and [are] able to make better and more informed decisions with those unique perspectives in their tool belt.

Gary Tubridy: And maybe work with their colleagues with a greater appreciation for their point of view.

Angie Volk: No question. No question.

Gary Tubridy: Yeah. Are you making investments in helping people be productive? Technology that can be brought to bear. There are obviously developmental programs that can be – [ that people can] participate in. I’m wondering, are there investments that you feel are really important to help people be productive, to get better at what they do?

Angie Volk: I’m going to answer that in two different ways. One, in terms of outright productivity. We use the Salesforce.com platform extensively. Not only for pipeline and funnel management but for ensuring our team is spending the right amount of time [on] the right customer segments and doing the right activities, high-value activities.

So that is the platform, the technology that we use daily. In terms of the more [leadership] development, we do have several levels of Leadership Academy. So, whether people want to stretch themselves in terms of product and technology training, or straight-out leadership development training, we have several different opportunities for that as well.

One of my favorite things that we have that is the first in my experience, is an internship program for sales. It’s so rewarding. It’s so incredible. These folks are just aggressive and excited and coachable and it’s really neat to see this next generation of employees come into the workforce and teach us a few things about what’s important to them and to their careers.

Gary Tubridy: Yeah. I heard you say “Leadership Academy”, and I wanted to ask a little bit more about that because not all companies have these infrastructures devoted to helping build the leadership of tomorrow. Tell me a little bit about that.

Angie Volk: So, this is wholly dedicated to developing our future leaders. So rather than training on products or technologies or therapies, this is all training on leadership skill sets, including all the way along the continuum from interviewing and recruiting to onboarding. And then at the other end, to performance management, and then everything that’s in the middle, which includes coaching and leading people of many different personality types and really, situational leadership.

And then really talking about that career development pipeline. We do fairly extensive calibration exercises on a regular basis to really discuss and enable that movement to give people the opportunity to stretch. So, we try and go end to end on all the things a progressing manager might need to know as they move along the continuum.

Gary Tubridy: Do all your managers go through that or do they have to be invited to participate?

Angie Volk: It is a selective group, but I would say it’s not that we won’t hire someone into a leadership role if they haven’t gone through the course. But it’s certainly something we try to identify people that we think have that caliber of leadership development so that we can make sure that they get up on the right foot and are well prepared.

Gary Tubridy: Yeah. Let me ask you does building a leadership bench at 3M include any diversity, equity, inclusion goals or programs?

Angie Volk: We do. So we, like I would say many organizations that I have worked for, or colleagues that I work with – I think that is on everybody’s radar.

As it should be, and which I’m very glad for it to be. What I would say is, one thing that I’ve learned is that in order for those efforts to be effective, they can’t be mandates. I think – and I think inclusion is a wonderful word because everybody needs to be on board with why it’s important.

And it’s not just for the sake of itself. It’s not just for a tally and numbers on a spreadsheet. People have to understand the connection between having a diverse team and financial success. And I think there’s more and more data that’s demonstrating that. I think in our situation, the customers that we call on are incredibly diverse.

And of course, it makes sense that we should have a diverse team that can connect with them in that way.

Gary Tubridy: It’s more than a mandate. It’s a necessity and we have to look at it that way. It’s a business, [a] self-interested policy, I think to do that.

Angie Volk: But I shy away a little bit from the word “policy” because I think, again, I think in my learnings, you can alienate people if you approach these types of efforts in the wrong way. And so, I think enabling people to see the benefits. I think about diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity, and generational [divisions].

Just like I mentioned a little bit ago, boy, can we learn a lot from the new folks coming on board in the workforce. And so, I think about the things that I’ve learned from diverse candidates and what my leadership style would be like without them. And that’s all I need to think about, to know the benefits.

Gary Tubridy: Let me ask you, you hear a lot about the term employee experience. And there’s a great theory out there. If you want to deliver a great customer experience, then we have to deliver a great employee experience.

It kind of – “If I’m not treating my people why should I think they’re going to treat the customers right?? And yet, employee experience has a lot of different masters out there. There is the human resources [element]. There’s the direct hierarchy in which a person operates and so on. I’m wondering, Does the notion of employee experience resonate with you all, and to the extent that it does, what are you doing to think about delivering a great employee experience for your team at 3M?

Angie Volk: One of my favorite talks at your last forum was the fact that customer experience and employee experience are certainly not mutually exclusive and they are very much correlative. And I could not agree more.

So, I think some of the things that I think about in terms of employee experience are making sure that people understand their individual purpose and our collective purpose. Again, back to the mission statement. I think that can go a long way in terms of reminding people and supporting people and recognizing people for the contributions that they’re making, not only to the company and to their own success, but again, to that patient at the end of our therapies.

And the “why”. Reminding people of the “why” we get up in the morning and the impact that we’re making on others and their ability to get the best therapies everywhere. I also think about it in terms of, just as a leader, I think it’s really important for me to impact the employee experience by being transparent, by being authentic, by being someone that hears them. And I may -again, I may not say yes. I may not be able to do all the things that they asked me to do, but I want them to feel heard.

Gary Tubridy: If you don’t model that behavior, how are they going to know how to do the same thing with their people?

Angie Volk: Exactly. Couldn’t agree more. And then, I think the last thing I think about in terms of employee experiences and again, this goes back to that generational thing. They place a lot of importance on feeling part of something, as a collective purpose. I think, in my experience, I’ve seen that really have a positive impact. As if you have aligned incentives and recognition programs.

And again, making sure everybody across the organization feels like they are part of the effort. I think that goes a long way in terms of employee experience.

Gary Tubridy: I wanted to inquire a little bit into the role of the sales operations group and ask an introductory question. What’s the scope of the operations function that you work with at 3M?

Is it a marketing, sales, service, or is it specific to sales? And we’ll talk a little bit about the kinds of services they deliver to you all in the context of Salesforce or things. First, what’s scope of the operations?

Angie Volk: So, I think that’s a bit of a loaded question because I believe it’s about to change as we spin off and we’ll have an opportunity to kind of create that answer, which is exciting.

But I would say, across the different organizations I’ve worked for – and I’ve actually led sales operations at Boston Scientific, which was an incredible role. In my experience, [it] typically doesn’t include marketing, but you are tied at the hip with marketing. But it does include everything from analytics, certainly compensation, training, communications. If there’s any type of “solutions” type of effort, that might be part of that group. In some situations, inside sales might report into that leader versus the sales leader.

But I would say tied at the hip to marketing versus including marketing.

Gary Tubridy: As you think about an operations function in the new organization, are there things that you would think about adding to its list of responsibilities?

Angie Volk: Yes. I’ve thought about this extensively.

I would say a heavy investment in analytics and strategy. I think it’s [because] our selling process is becoming so complex again, across the entire care continuum. Many different care settings from the hospital to long-term acute care facilities to ambulatory surgery centers as more and more therapies move out of the hospital.

It’s a big effort to keep track of what is happening with your therapy across that entire care continuum. And so, I would say the heaviest dose is within analytics. And then the second part is the strategic piece which we already mentioned as well in terms of the commercial model and productivity. Are we using the talent of our people in the way that we should? We have the right people in the right roles in the right span. With the right size of geography, calling on the right customers.

Gary Tubridy: They do so many important things today in terms of helping us understand what happened.

They’re also going to start flipping the switch on, help us understand what we should do. What could happen. Yes. And that starts to link them. What’s going on in the field? There’s a much more one-to-one relationship between operations and field sales and operations and marketing to the extent that they evolve in a way you just described.

Angie Volk: Agreed. No shortage of work is the short answer.

Gary Tubridy: No shortage of work at all. Let me give you one last question here. So, it’s 2023. And there are questions about the economy. People want to prioritize investments and such. What do you think as executives look at [in] 2023? What do you think they absolutely need to hold the line on in terms of investing in the sales function?

To make sure that “We grow to the extent possible and are positioned to grow as quickly as possible in the economy reasserts itself and maintain ourselves as an organization that cares about people and cares about the team.”

Angie Volk: I would say the most important must-haves in terms of supporting a sales team in 2023 is honestly stability, and just giving the sense of stability. We’ve just been through – I’m not sure even what word I would use to describe the past three years. We’ve all overheard “uncertainty” and “challenging times” and “rollercoaster” [and] whatnot.

So, I think everybody needs a sense of stability, but also a sense of new beginnings. For many of us, including in the med device market, as I’ve already described, we will never go back to the way things were in a lot of cases. There is a lot more work that we do that will, I think now, always be virtual to some extent. Access will never be the same to our hospitals and to our patients. As I mentioned, patients are moving out of the hospital and Covid exacerbated that trend. And so, I think leadership needs to really provide a sense of direction and stability.

Gary Tubridy: A new start. It’s a new beginning,

Angie Volk: Fresh start.

Gary Tubridy: And I’m not – yeah, I’m not sure what normal was. I’m not sure what normal will be, but when the world goes topsy-turvy, great leaders look at that as an opportunity because “I might be, I might not be all wrong. I might not be all right.

I might get a few things wrong, but I will provide that stability to my people. I know I’ll give my people the best support they could possibly [have], and they’re going to make it through. We’re going to make it through.” If you’ve got that attitude, then you take [a] topsy-turvy situation and turn it to your advantage because the other people are going to be running around with their hair on fire and you’re not. And that’s going to be a good thing for you.

Thank you so much for spending time with us here and [I] really appreciate it.

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